The Moderator of Church of Scotland has welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to tackling the growing problem of loneliness through its new Social Isolation and Loneliness Fund.
A fund has been set up to tackle loneliness and isolation, Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil announced the establishment of the fund this week, which aims to tackle loneliness and social isolation.
Speaking of the initiative, which has been designed to have a preventative impact on people from vulnerable groups who may experience isolation, Rt Rev Dr Angus Morrison said: “The growing loneliness we see all around us touches us all directly, as our population gets older and more people are living alone or far away from their families. This is a major challenge of our time – being divided, being separated, feeling alienated. We feel our great human community pulling apart and fragmenting.”
He added that the Church of Scotland is also keen to work to address the issue: “The Church is also one of the largest providers of social spaces used by many local groups. We also support projects directly. Our own ‘Go For It’ Fund has provided grants worth £144,390 to three groups helping connect young families in Inverness and working with isolated elderly and disabled people in Central Scotland.
“As Moderator, I have been privileged to see the practical difference the Church is making every day in tackling social isolation in communities across the county. Christian faith brings a supreme message of hope – hope anchored in the reality that, just as God is with us, we can be with one another.”
Speaking on behalf of the Scottish Government, Mr Neil said that he recognised that “social isolation can damage a person’s sense of belonging, empowerment and contribution to society”, adding that he was “delighted to be announcing more than half a million pounds in funding in order to help [tackle] this.”
In addition to the government’s £548,000 commitment, the Church of Scotland’s Go For It Fund has awarded nearly £3million since it was established in 2012 and currently supports around 120 projects across Scotland. Specific Go For It supported projects being recognised by the Scottish parliament include Befriend Motherwell and Befriend Belshill – both of which “match” volunteer befrienders with individuals deemed to lonely or socially isolated and aims to empower individuals to lead more independent lives. Conservative MSP, Margaret Mitchell, who represents the Central Scotland region, recently lodged a motion which expressed “gratitude for the difference” they make to people’s lives. She said: “The befriending projects currently taking place in Motherwell and Bellshill are inspirational initiatives that not only benefit isolated members of the community but also the volunteers themselves.”
While many initiatives focus on elderly people, other projects also aim to reach out to younger people at risk of loneliness. Another Go For It project, in Inverness, is focused on enabling families to increase social connections and develop confidence in parenting.
The government’s announcement follows the publication of an official report commissioned by the Equal Opportunties Committee last year, which found that loneliness was “as damaging to Scots health as poverty and poor housing” and recommended action. Committee chair Margaret McCulloch stated that “social isolation and loneliness is a considerable problem in Scotland and individual citizens, public services and the Scottish Government must take collective responsibility to tackle the situation” and argued that “we cannot stand still over this.”
Disabled people and LGBTI people have consistently been identified as groups vulnerable to social isolation and its consequences and while no specific LGBTI-related project has received direct funding so far it is expected that many LGBTI people and their families will directly benefit from some of the new initiatives.
Last month, responding to the Committee’s report, Local Government and Community Empowerment Minister Marco Biagi admitted there was a”strong moral case” for addressing the issue but warned there could be “no quick fixes”.
Mr Biagi said that further research had been commissioned on how widespread isolation and loneliness is throughout Scotland, and what measures could be taken to tackle the problem.